Friday, February 8, 2008

Visualizing the Social Graph

One of the fun things about doing research for a blog like this is that one thing leads to another. Yesterday I briefly mentioned the term “data visualization” in the context I think most marketers use—how can we transform mountains of raw data into graphics we can use for understanding and decision making? At least, that’s how I’ve thought about it ever since statistics and marketing research courses.

But I ran across a couple of sites that reminded me of something else—the “social graph.” With the rise of MySpace, Facebook and specialized social networks, it’s a concept that has been much discussed over the last year. My personal opinion is that it is not different from the idea of social networks that many of us remember from sociology courses; Wikipedia has an article that describes the sociological concept. Chris Brogan has a brief video that does a good job of tying the two concepts together and Mitch Joel has a thoughtful post on the subject. The Economist had a contrarian view last fall.

“Social graph” is clearly the term used in the social networking space, so I’ll stick with that. We are all part of multiple networks today, for better or for worse. Even for us as marketers, some of it is personal, as when I posted my travel photos on Flickr and invited friends to view them. Others are clearly work; probably most of the people who read this are on LinkedIn or some other professional network. Some would be best described as research. I continue to maintain that all marketers should have multiple accounts on sites like Facebook, MySpace, Second Life and other new media sites. We should join some groups and visit from time to time. How else do we know what’s going on? Having it filtered through employees or our teen-aged children is just not the same thing.

The really cool thing I ran into is a set of applications listed on that allow users to visualize networks of various kinds. These are only two of the 16 applications they list:

That lead me to check out similar applications on Facebook. I’m not a serious user, I’m a research user, so I was astounded to find that there are over 15,000 apps that Facebook users can put on their sites. Here are some of the currently most popular—notice how many of them connect users with one another. No wonder that WSJOnline reported this week (subscription required) that MySpace had opened its platform to allow developers to build apps for it! Lack of this “fun stuff” may be one reason MySpace has fallen behind Facebook. If you are into diy, Google recently announced a Social Graph API that allows users to build graphs from publicly-available data and connections.
Finally, it made me stop and read the Terms of Use and Privacy Police on Facebook. That’s a subject in and of itself; I’ll return to it next week.

The implications for marketers and advertisers are clear. In the past, we had to conduct segmentation studies in order to identify homogeneous groups of customers and prospects. Now users are doing it themselves. How far should we go to take advantage of the social groups that are forming on the web? That presents troubling issues of privacy and trust that marketers need to consider openly and carefully.
Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Seb said...


Netvizz, a Facebook application, creates a .gdf file describing either your personal network or the groups you are a member of, and let you import it into GUESS and Gephi.